I hope that these considerations satisfy my readers that it is important to keep the heart with all diligence. I proceed,
Thirdly, To point out those special seasons in the life of a Christian which require our utmost diligence in keeping the heart. Though (as was observed before) the duty is always binding, and there is no time or condition of life in which we may be excused from this work; yet there are some signal seasons, critical hours, requiring more than common diligence over the heart.
I. The first season is the time of prosperity, when Providence smiles upon us. Now, Christian, keep thy heart with all diligence; for it will be very apt to grow secure, proud and earthly. "To see a man humble in prosperity," (says Bernard,) "is one of the greatest rarities in the world." Even a good Hezekiah could not hide a vain-glorious temper in his temptation; hence that caution to Israel: "And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware to thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities which thou filledst not," &c. "then beware lest thou forget the Lord." So indeed it happened: for "Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked." How then may a Christian keep his heart from pride and carnal security under the smiles of Providence and the confluence of creature-comforts?
There are several helps to secure the heart from the dangerous snares of prosperity.
1. Consider the dangerous ensnaring temptations attending a pleasant and prosperous condition. Few, very few of those that live in the pleasures of this world, escape everlasting perdition. "It is easier" (says Christ) "for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Not many mighty, not many noble are called."
We have great reason to tremble, when the Scripture tells us in general that few shall be saved; much more when it tells us, that of that rank of which we are, but few shall be saved. When Joshua called all the tribes of Israel to cast lots for the discovery of Achan, doubtless Achan feared; when the tribe of Judah was taken, his fear increased; but when the family of the Zarhites was taken, it was time to tremble. So when the Scriptures come so near ass to tell us that of such a class of men very few shall escape, it is time to be alarmed. "I should wonder" (says Chrysostom) "if any of the rulers be saved." O how many have been wheeled to hell in the chariots of earthly pleasures, while others have been whipped to heaven by the rod of affliction! How few, like the daughter of Tyre, come to Christ with a gift! How few among the rich entreat his favor!
2. It may keep one more humble and watchful in prosperity, to consider that among Christians many have been much the worse for it. How good had it been for some of them, if they had never known prosperity! When they were in a low condition, how humble, spiritual and heavenly they were! but when advanced, what an apparent alteration has been upon their spirits! It was so with Israel; when they were in a low condition in the wilderness, then Israel was "holiness to the Lord;" but when they came into Canaan and were richly fed, their language was, "We are lords, we come no more unto thee." Outward gains are ordinarily attended with inward losses; as in a low condition their civil employments were wont to have a savor of their religious duties, so in an exalted condition their duties commonly have a savor of the world. He, indeed, is rich in grace whose graces are not hindered by his riches. There are but few Jehosaphats in the world, of whom it is said, "He had silver and gold in abundance, and his heart was lifted up in the way of God's commands." Will not this keep thy heart humble in prosperity, to think how dearly many godly men have paid for their riches; that through them they have lost that which all the world cannot purchase?
3. Keep down thy vain heart by this consideration; God values no man the more for these things. God values no man by outward excellencies, but by inward graces; they are the internal ornaments of the Spirit, which are of great price in God's sight. God despises all worldly glory, and accepts no man's person; "but in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him." Indeed, if the judgment of God went by the same rule that man's does, we might value ourselves by these things, and stand upon them: but so much every man is, as he is in the judgment of God. Does thy heart yet swell, and will neither of the former considerations keep it humble?
4. Consider how bitterly many dying persons have bewailed their folly in setting their hearts upon these things, and have wished that they had never known them. How dreadful was the situation of Pius Quintus, who died crying out despairingly, "When I was in a low condition I had some hopes of salvation, when I was advanced to be a cardinal, I greatly doubted; but since I came to the popedom I have no hope at all." An author also tells us a real, but sad story of a rich oppressor, who had scraped up a great estate for his only son: when he came to die, he called his son to him, and said, "Son, do you indeed love me?" The son answered that "Nature, besides his paternal indulgence, obliged him to that." "Then (said the father) express it by this: hold thy finger in the candle as long as I am saying a prayer." The son attempted, but could not endure it. Upon that the father broke out into these expressions: "Thou canst not suffer the burning of thy finger for me; but to get this wealth I have hazarded my soul for thee, and must burn, body and soul, in hell, for thy sake; thy pains would have been but for a moment, but mine will be unquenchable fire."
5. The heart may be kept humble by considering of what a clogging nature earthly things are to a soul heartily engaged in the way of heaven. They shut out much of heaven from us at present, though they may not shut us out of heaven at last. If thou consider thyself as a stranger to this world, traveling for heaven, thou hast then as much reason to be delighted with these things as a weary horse has to be pleased with a heaven burden. There was a serious truth in the atheistical scoff of Julian: when taking away the Christians' estates, he told them "it was to make them more fit for the kingdom of heaven."
6. Is thy spirit still vain and lofty? Then urge upon it the consideration of that awful day of reckoning, wherein, according to our receipts of mercies, shall be our account for them. Methinks this should awe and humble the vainest heart that ever was in the breast of a saint. Know for a certainty that the Lord records all mercies that ever he gave thee, from the beginning to the end of thy life. "Remember, O my people, from Shittim unto Gilgal," &c. Yes, they are exactly numbered and recorded in order to an account; and thy account will be suitable: "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." You are but a steward, and your Lord will come and take an account of you; and what a great account have you to make, who have much of this world in your hands! What swift witnesses will your mercies be against you, if this be the best fruit of them!
7. It is a very humbling reflection, that the mercies of God should work otherwise upon my spirit than they used to do upon the spirits of others to whom they come as sanctified mercies from the love of God. Ah, Lord! what a sad consideration is this! enough to lay me in the dust, when I consider:
(1.) That their mercies have greatly humbled them, the higher God has raised them, the lower they have laid themselves before him. Thus did Jacob when God had given him much substance. "And Jacob said, I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and all the truth which thou hast showed thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and am now become two bands." Thus also it was with holy David; when God had confirmed the promise to him, to build him a house, and not reject him as he did Saul, he goes in before the Lord and says, "Who am I, and what is my father's house, that thou has brought me hitherto?" So indeed God required. When Israel brought to him the first fruits of Canaan, they were to say, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father," &c. Do others raise God the higher for his raising them? and the more God raises me, the more shall I abuse him and exalt myself? O how wicked is such conduct as this!
(2.) Others have freely ascribed the glory of all their enjoyments to God, and magnified not themselves, but him, for their mercies. Thus says David, "Let thy name be magnified and the house of thy servant be established." He does not fly upon the mercy and suck out its sweetness, looking no further than his own comfort: no, he cares for no mercy except God be magnified in it. So when God had delivered him from all his enemies, he says, "The Lord is my strength and my rock, he is become my salvation." Saints of old did not put the crown upon their own heads as I do in my vanity.
(3.) The mercies of God have been melting mercies unto others, melting their souls in love to the God of their mercies. When Hannah received the mercy of a son, she said, "My soul rejoiceth in the Lord;" not in the mercy, but in the God of the mercy. So also Mary: "My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoiceth in God my Savior." The word signifies to make more room for God; their hearts were not contracted, but the more enlarged to God.
(4.) The mercies of God have been great restraints to keep others from sin. "Seeing thou, our God, hast given us such a deliverance as this, should we again break thy commandments?" Ingenuous souls have felt the force of the obligations of love and mercy upon them.
(5.) The mercies of God to others have been as oil to the wheels of their obedience, and made them more fit for service. Now if mercies work contrarily upon my heart, what cause have I to be afraid that they come not to me in love! It is enough to damp the spirits of any saint, to see what sweet effects mercies have had upon others, and what bitter effects upon him.
II. The second season in the life of a Christian, requiring more than common diligence to keep his heart, is the time of adversity. When Providence frowns upon you, and blasts your outward comforts, then look to your heart; keep it with all diligence from repining against God, or fainting under his hand; for troubles, though sanctified, are troubles still. Jonah was a good man, and yet how fretful was his heart under affliction! Job was the mirror of patience, yet how was his heart discomposed by trouble! You will find it hard to get a composed spirit under great afflictions. O the hurries and tumults which they occasion even in the best hearts!Let me show you, then, how a Christian under great afflictions may keep his heart from repining or desponding, under the hand of God.
I will here offer several helps to keep the heart in this condition.
1. By these cross providences God is faithfully pursuing the great design of electing love upon the souls of his people, and orders all these afflictions as means sanctified to that end. Afflictions come not by casualty, but by counsel. By this counsel of God they are ordained as means of much spiritual good to saints. "By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged," &c. "But he for our profit," &c. "All things work together for good," &c. They are God's workmen upon our hearts, to pull down the pride and carnal security of them; and being so, their nature is changed; they are turned into blessings and benefits. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," says David. Surely then thou hast no reason to quarrel with God, but rather to wonder that he should concern himself so much in thy good as to use any means for accomplishing it. Paul could bless God if by any means he might attain the resurrection of the dead. "My brethren," says James, "count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations." 'My Father is about a design of love upon my soul, and do I well to be angry with him? All that he does is in pursuance of, and in reference to some eternal, glorious ends upon my soul. it is my ignorance of God's design that makes me quarrel with him.' He says to thee in this case, as he did to Peter, "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter."
2. Though God has reserved to himself a liberty of afflicting his people, yet he has tied up his own hands by promise never to take away his loving kindness from them. Can I contemplate this scripture with a repining, discontented spirit: "I will be his Father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of man, and with the stripes of the children of men: nevertheless my mercy shall not depart away from him." O my heart, my haughty heart! dost thou well to be discontent, when God has given thee the whole tree, with all the clusters of comfort growing on it, because he suffers the wind to blow down a few leaves? Christians have two kinds of goods, the goods of the throne and the goods of the footstool; immoveables and moveables. If God has secured those, never let my heart be troubled at the loss of these: indeed, if he had cut off his love, or discovenanted my soul, I had reason to be cast down; but this he hath not done, nor can he do it.
3. It is of great efficacy to keep the heart from sinking under afflictions, to call to mind that thine own Father has the ordering of them. Not a creature moves hand or tongue against thee but by his permission. Suppose the cup be bitter, yet it is the cup which thy Father hath given thee; and canst thou suspect poison to be in it? Foolish man, put home the case to thine own heart; canst thou give thy child that which would ruin him? No! thou wouldst as soon hurt thyself as him. "If thou then, being evil, knowest how to give good gifts to thy children," how much more does God! The very consideration of his nature as a God of love, pity, and tender mercies; or of his relation to thee as a father, husband, friend, may be security enough, if he had not spoken a word to quiet thee in this case; and yet you have his word too, by the prophet Jeremiah: "I will do you no hurt." You lie too near his heart for him to hurt you; nothing grieves him more than your groundless and unworthy suspicions of his designs. Would it not grieve a faithful, tender-hearted physician, when he had studied the case of his patient, and prepared the most excellent medicines to save his life, to hear him cry out, 'O he has undone me! he has poisoned me!' because it pains him in the operation? O when will you be ingenuous?
4. God respects you as much in a low as in a high condition; and therefore it need not so much trouble you to be made low; nay, he manifests more of his love, grace and tenderness in the time of affliction than in the time of prosperity. As God did not at first choose you because you were high, he will not now forsake you because you are low. Men may look shy upon you, and alter their respects as you condition is altered; when Providence has blasted your estate, your summer-friends may grow strange, fearing you may be troublesome to them; but will God do so? No, no: "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." says he. If adversity and poverty could bar you from access to God, it were indeed a deplorable condition: but, so far from this, you may go to him as freely as ever. "My God will hear me," says the church. Poor David, when stripped of all earthly comforts, could encourage himself in the Lord his God; and why cannot you? Suppose your husband or son had lost all at sea, and should come to you in rags; could you deny the relation, or refuse to entertain him? If you would not, much less will God. Why then are you so troubled? Though your condition be changed, your Father's love is not changed.
5. What if by the loss of outward comforts God preserves your soul from the ruining power of temptation? Surely then you have little cause to sink your heart by such sad thoughts. Do not earthly enjoyments make men shrink and warp in times of trial? For the love of these many have forsaken Christ in such an hour. The young ruler "went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." If this is God's design, how ungrateful to murmur against him for it! We see mariners in a storm can throw over-board the most valuable goods to preserve their lives. We know it is usual for soldiers in a besieged city to destroy the finest buildings without the walls in which the enemy may take shelter; and no one doubts that it is wisely done. Those who have mortified limbs willingly stretch them out to be cut off, and not only thank, but pay the surgeon. Must God be murmured against for casting over that which would sink you in a storm; for pulling down that which would assist your enemy in the siege of temptation; for cutting off what would endanger your everlasting life? O, inconsiderate, ungrateful man! are not these things for which thou grievest, the very things that have ruined thousands of souls?
6. It would much support thy heart under adversity, to consider that God by such humbling providences may be accomplishing that for which you have long prayed and waited. And should you be troubled at that? Say, Christian, hast thou not many prayers depending before God upon such accounts as these; that he would keep thee from sin; discover to thee the emptiness of the creature; that he would mortify and kill thy lusts; that thy heart may never find rest in any enjoyment but Christ? By such humbling and impoverishing strokes God may be fulfilling thy desire. Wouldst thou be kept from sin? Lo, he hath hedged up thy way with thorns. Wouldst thou see the creature's vanity? Thy affliction is a fair glass to discover it; for the vanity of the creature is never so effectually and sensibly discovered, as in our own experience. Wouldst thou have thy corruptions mortified? This is the way: to have the food and fuel removed that maintained them; for as prosperity begat and fed them, so adversity, when sanctified, is a means to kill them. Wouldst thou have thy heart rest no where but in the bosom of God? What better method could Providence take to accomplish thy desire than pulling from under thy head that soft pillow of creature-delights on which you rested before? And yet you fret at this: peevish child, how dost thou try thy Father's patience! If he delay to answer thy prayers, thou art ready to say he regards thee not; if he does that which really answers the end of them, though not in the way which you expect, you murmur against him for that; as if, instead of answering, he were crossing all thy hopes and aims. Is this ingenuous? Is it not enough that God is so gracious as to do what thou desirest: must thou be so impudent as to expect him to do it in the way which thou prescribest?
7. It may support thy heart, to consider that in these troubles God is performing that work in which thy soul would rejoice, if thou didst see the design of it. We are clouded with much ignorance, and are not able to discern how particular providences tend to the fulfillment of God's designs; and therefore, like Israel in the wilderness, are often murmuring, because Providence leads us about in a howling desert, where we are exposed to difficulties; thought then he led them, and is now leading us, by the right way to a city of habitations. If you could but see how God in his secret counsel has exactly laid the whole plan of your salvation, even to the smallest means and circumstances; could you be discern the admirable harmony of divine dispensations, their mutual relations, together with the general respect they all have to the last end; had you liberty to make your own choice, you would, of all conditions in the world, choose that in which you now are. Providence is like a curious piece of tapestry made of a thousand shreds, which, single, appear useless, but put together, they represent a beautiful history to the eye. As God does all things according to the counsel of his own will, of course this is ordained as the best method to effect your salvation. Such an one has a proud heart, so many humbling providences appoint for him; such an one has an earthly heart, so many impoverishing providences for him. Did you but see this, I need say no more to support the most dejected heart.
8. It would much conduce to the settlement of your heart, to consider that by fretting and discontent you do yourself more injury than all your afflictions could do. Your own discontent is that which arms your troubles with a sting; you make your burden heavy by struggling under it. Did you but lie quietly under the hand of God, your condition would be much more easy than it is. "Impatience in the sick occasions severity in the physician." This makes God afflict the more, as a father a stubborn child that receives not correction. Beside, it unfits the soul to pray over its troubles, or receive the sense of that good which God intends by them. Affliction is a pill, which, being wrapt up in patience and quiet submission, may be easily swallowed; but discontent chews the pill, and so embitters the soul. God throws away some comfort which he saw would hurt you, and you will throw away your peace after it; he shoots an arrow which sticks in your clothes, and was never intended to hurt, but only to drive you from sin, and you will thrust it deeper, to the piercing of your very heart, by despondency and discontent.
9. If thy heart (like that of Rachel) still refuses to be comforted, then do one thing more: compare the condition thou art now in, and with which thou art so much dissatisfied, with the condition in which others are, and in which thou deservest to be. 'Others are roaring in flames, howling under the scourge of vengeance; and among them I deserve to be. O my soul! is this hell? is my condition as bad as that of the damned? what would thousands now in hell give to exchange conditions with me!' I have read (says an author) that when the Duke of Conde had voluntarily subjected himself to the inconveniences of poverty, he was one day observed and pitied by a lord of Italy, who from tenderness wished him to be more careful of his person. The good duke answered, "Sir, be not troubled, and think not that I suffer from want; for I send a harbinger before me, who makes ready my lodgings and takes care that I be royally entertained." The lord asked him who was his harbinger? He answered, "The knowledge of myself, and the consideration of what I deserve for my sins, which is eternal torment; when with this knowledge I arrive at my lodging, however unprovided I find it, methinks it is much better than I deserve. Why doth the living man complain?" Thus the heart may be kept from desponding or repining under adversity.
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